Photo from 1867 of the Oneonta sidewheeler on Columbia River.
Oneonta sidewheeler on Columbia River, 1867. Photo: Oregon Historical Society.

Seminar Series: Battle for the Columbia River – 23 September 2023

Battle for the Columbia River
The Rise of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company
with Author Mychal Ostler

Saturday, 23 September 2023
Zoom Lecture at 11:00 AM EST, Q&A to Follow

Register for ZOOM >>Buy the Book >>Guest Donation >>

Seminars are free to attend, although we hope you will support the
Series with a suggested $10 Seminar Guest donation.

During the latter half of the 1800s, a turbulent period marked by the ravages of the Civil War, the discovery of gold in California, and the construction of the transcontinental railroad, the Columbia River emerged as a vital transportation route. Building steamboats, continually improving their design, and devising ways to navigate the challenging rapids and non-navigable sections of the river posed significant challenges. Competition was fierce among those eager to tap into the lucrative opportunities of this emerging industry.

Here is the story of John Ainsworth, Jacob Kamm, and Robert Thompson, the founders of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company. They not only established dominance but broke their competitors, creating the largest shipping company in the Pacific Northwest. This is a tale of an unpredictable river, relentless competition, a largely unregulated business environment, and an enduring friendship. It is a story of rate wars, monopolies, buyouts, and securing coveted government contracts.

In this unregulated business environment of the nineteenth century, figures like John Ainsworth made their own rules, often deploying frontier justice against their enemies. The intricate twists and machinations of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company parallel the ever-changing currents of the Columbia River itself, and we welcome you as author Mychal Ostler relates to us this fascinating story.

About the Speaker

Mychal Ostler, MA, LMFT, is a native of the Columbia Gorge and grew up living and working on the river. A graduate of Central Washington University, he has a lifelong passion for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, and its steamboats inspired the idea for this book. Mychal has written articles about the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and Columbia River steamboats for Sea History (See his latest article “From Pilot to President: Captain John Ainsworth & the Oregon Steam Navigation Company” in Sea History 179/Summer 2022) and Columbia magazine. Mychal lives with his wife, daughter and three pets in Raleigh, North Carolina.